A literature review is a written approach to examining published information on a particular topic or field. Authors use this review of literature to create a foundation and justification for their research or to demonstrate knowledge on the current state of a field. This review can take the form of a course assignment or a section of a longer project, such as a Culminating Project.
Students often misinterpret the term literature review to mean merely a collection of source summaries, similar to annotations or article abstracts. Although summarizing is an element of a literature review, you will want to approach this assignment as a comprehensive representation of your understanding of a topic or field, such as what has already been done or what has been found. Then, also using these sources, you can demonstrate the need for future research, specifically, your future research.
Look at your speciﬁc area of study. Think about what interests you, and what is fertile ground for study. Talk to your professor, brainstorm, and read lecture notes and recent issues of periodicals in the ﬁeld.
Consider the following:
Choose an area of research that is due for a review.
Note things such as:
Write a one or two sentence statement summarizing the conclusion you have reached about the major trends and developments you see in the research that has been done on your subject.
Develop headings/subheadings. If your literature review is extensive, ﬁnd a large table surface, and on it place post-it notes or ﬁling cards to organize all your ﬁndings into categories. Move them around if you decide that (a) they ﬁt better under different headings, or (b) you need to establish new topic headings. Physically manipulating your thoughts is a very effective strategy for organizing and seeing connections.
Follow the plan you have developed above, making certain that each section links logically to the one before and after, and that you have divided your sections by themes or subtopics, not by reporting the work of individual theorists or researchers.
A literature review should synthesize, or connect ideas to one another under a unified theme.
Look at the topic sentences of each paragraph. If you were to read only these sentences, would you ﬁnd that your paper presented a clear position, logically developed, from beginning to end? If, for example, you ﬁnd that each paragraph begins with a researcher's name, it might indicate that, instead of evaluating and comparing the research literature from an analytical point of view, you have simply described what research has been done. This is one of the most common problems with student literature reviews. So if your paper still does not appear to be deﬁned by a central, guiding concept, or if it does not critically analyze the literature selected and make connections between the work of different researchers (in other words, synthesize), it's time to head back to the drawing board.
Avoid direct quotations. Just like in an annotated bibliography, you will want to paraphrase all of the material you present in a literature review. This assignment is a chance for you to demonstrate your knowledge on a topic, and putting ideas into your own words will ensure that you are interpreting the found material for your reader. Paraphrasing will also ensure your review of literature is in your personal author's voice.
Think about it. How do you know what you will be introducing until after you've framed out your thoughts? And how can you wrap things up until you know what you're wrapping up?
Thanks to the library at the University of Guelph for sharing many of these tips!